Birthright for sale
By Steve Kelly, Will Melia and Alan Edge
From Issue 47, Summer 2000
I thought this Internet stuff was going to be great. Loads to read, the news at your fingertips, music to download – I spent, ooooo, a whole 5 minutes on Napster before they shut it down! Typical. Loads of LFC stuff, too, but if you’re doing a fanzine you have got to be careful. Great minds think alike, and every so often my feeble one might get up to speed with them.
And so it was when I read what Alan Edge and Will Melia had to say about the proposed ground move to Stanley Park on the ‘Kop Talk’ web-site. I think I uttered the word “shit” about 4 paragraphs in. By page 4, I was muttering the word “bastards”. By page 8, I was just groaning. Not for anything untoward that Will and Alan were saying – far from it – but there was my imagined article on the subject, not only thought for thought but expressed so well that I couldn’t possibly compete. What the hell was I going to write now? Still, not everyone’s surfing (“you’re not surfing, you’re typing” – Jack Dee) so someone might have missed it. The idea occurred to me that I could take you stage by stage through their piece, add the odd bit of my own and come to a happy compromise.
Needless to say, we all think it’s a terrible idea. Or is it needless to say it? So many people seem to be going along with the club’s doublethink that it would seem any opposition is in a tiny minority, but I think there are an awful lot of fence sitters around. They may be waiting to see how the Houllier Revolution pans out, but it could be too late by then. There is also a disturbing degree of apathy amongst Liverpool fans, borne from two things. ONE; “if the club are gonna do it, they’re gonna do it”. Well, we’ll see. That’s why Melia & Edge are forming Anfield4Ever, in direct opposition to the club’s machinations – maybe even just to provide a forum on whether this really is the chosen future of the outright majority. TWO; “they’re not really going, they’re just scaring the householders by the current ground into selling up quickly and cheaply”. A valid point, as it happens, but we can’t afford to assume that. If we leave our protest until it’s finally confirmed that we’re leaving, the wheels will have been set in motion and it will take a superhuman effort to make them grind to a halt.
A4E set out their argument by approaching each ‘reason’ for moving and setting out to systematically demolish it. We need a 70,000 capacity because there are great demands for the tickets currently on offer and a long season ticket waiting list. There isn’t any argument about the need to increase capacity, but 70,000? A4E. point out that our biggest ever average attendance is 48,000. Obviously, we have added a whole multitude of new fans around the country and around the world since then, but ticket prices have become utterly ludicrous. They will be at least £30 by the time this new ground is supposed to be up and running. For many fans, I believe this will be a hike too far. You can already see fans making their choices. The League Cup is almost officially dead and buried, while Liverpool’s last two home ties in the FA Cup (to Premier League and recent-Premier League opposition) just about managed to sneak over the 30,000 mark. Was it a coincidence that we lost both matches? There is something about a ground with huge rows of empty seats that is truly dispiriting. The less said about the Catch 22 of European competition, the better. Confirmed live terrestrial coverage will eat into the attendance, and a full house will only be guaranteed by the sort of visitors most likely to knock us out!
There was a certain bittersweet irony on the day this move was proposed, because the 2000/01 fixtures were announced on the same day. Wouldn’t you just know that Bradford (h) was going to be the first game of the season? For anyone who needs reminding, this game was 5,000 below capacity last season – in other words, we couldn’t even sell out the ground we’ve already got!! And for those with the seemingly conclusive argument that “ah yeah, but that was on telly”, answer this; do you think football’s coverage on the little cathode ray god is going to get better? Or worse? It’s going to get worse, isn’t it?
The new TV deal comes into effect in a year’s time. Not only is Sky’s saturation coverage set to continue, but ITV will screen two highlights programmes. NTL will be showing about 40 matches on pay-per-view. Saturation will turn into a deluge, but that’s only half the story. How will NTL make PPV really pay? Intriguing local tussles? Perhaps. The really BIG games? Nope – Sky will have first option on those. No, NTL will be looking for games where they are guaranteed a national audience. For me, there are only two clubs who fit that description. Want to take a guess? Here’s a clue: United are the other one. PPV is going to absolutely hammer Liverpool’s games. There has been a concerted attempt to ‘educate’ the football fan away from slavish devotion to kick-offs at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but they haven’t really succeeded. For everyone, bar Man U it would seem, the starting time of the game and the day are of some importance.
Let’s examine the very make up of that (perfectly admirable) 40,000 gate against Bradford. Who do you think made up the bulk of that crowd? That’s right – season ticket holders i.e. people who had paid in advance to watch it, whenever it was being played. Those of you in possession of such an artefact know full well that you only ever pay for 16 matches – you get the other three for, well, free. But aren’t there some among our number who look at the fixture list and (if they were being brutally honest) could spot at least three matches that they would rather not bother with? I did Economics at school – badly, as it turned out. At the A level stage, they just give you an O level grade simply for turning up, which was quite lucky for me otherwise I wouldn’t have got one! Anyway, from all of those dreary lessons with Mr Fletcher, only one economic principle stayed with me: when supply goes up, demand goes down. Is the club really saying that they will not only retain every single season ticket holder for a 70,000-capacity stadium, but will also be able to hand out season tickets to every person on the (allegedly) huge waiting list?
I think not. Some are going to go beyond passing on the cup-ties and start giving a few league games a miss too. At the very best, they are just going to join the “walk-up” and pay on the day. With 25,000 extra tickets on the market, a lot of Reds will dump their season ticket (which will be a lump sum payment of at least £500 by the summer of 2003) and take their chances – even for those rare games when 70,000 hardy souls will fill the place. Alan and Will (I’m making them sound like a couple of Robin Hood’s merry men here!) make another excellent point when they say that the vast majority of fans on the season ticket waiting list actually go the games via single tickets. I gave mine up in 1993 because Moores bottled out of sacking Souness, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. When the bastard kept his job despite our ‘protest’, I was saddled with paying to get into the Kop or getting a ticket wherever I could find one. I sat in some far-flung corners of the ground that year. When Roy got the job, I immediately applied to get my season ticket back. I was on the list but still attending games. Has the club done its maths correctly – or are they counting the waiting list crew twice?
A4E’s second category was the most contentious, in reply to the argument that We need to compete with MU. They are so far ahead commercially that we’ll never catch up. To see them take over our trophy haul is unthinkable, and they must be stopped at all costs. Alan and Will knew this would not make them very popular, but they grasped the nettle. Too firmly, in places, but facts still have to be faced; United’s support at the moment is at a frightening level. We can get close, but not so close that we could build a ground bigger than theirs and regularly fill it. To argue otherwise is nonsense. As for financial clout, they have already won this battle. Reds cream themselves over the new kit deal or the new Internet deal. Do you really, even in your wildest fantasies, think that United have not considered such options and are not in the process of carrying them out? Do you really think they will not increase, perhaps even double, what we make from shirt sponsorship or the Internet? Once we establish the financial arena as the biggest battlefield, we’re already beaten.
A4E ask the perfectly pertinent question “do we need to expand to ‘compete’ with United?”. They make the point that we can build the ground, but how will it be financed? Through bank loans? Then the whole idea of building the new stadium (providing more transfer funds for the manager) is held up to ridicule, as the bank(s) will have first call on any extra profits we make. “This mythical additional revenue from the bigger stadium will not provide any extra money for at least ten years!” – and what will United be doing in the mean time? They have not mentioned the possibility of council assistance in their article (although I may have missed it – it IS huge!), perhaps because it is basically a non-starter. I can hardly see the ratepayers of Liverpool being thrilled about millions of EC money being diverted to build a new home for what, in essence, is a multi-million pound business – no matter how important it is to the community. If the council wasn’t prepared to reciprocate for the blues, there’s half the votes lost before the election even starts. The only way round that would be a shared stadium, but of course they’ve all said that will never – and Brutus is an honourable man.
Alan and Will then touch on the subject that frankly I am getting sick and tired of banging on about. The chequebook has not served Liverpool Football Club’s purposes throughout the 90’s. What on earth makes anyone think that spending even more than we have already (Souness £30m, Evans £45m, Houllier £50m and rising weekly!) is going to finally bring about the success we crave? When the proof of a successful alternative policy stares us in the face not only at Anfield – McManaman, Fowler and Owen were the players of the 90’s – but also on TV whenever Giggs, Beckham and Scholes ply their ugly trade. As for the most influential player of the 90’s, that must be Eric Cantona – all one million pounds’ worth of him. Sad but true.
These are all painful lessons, but learn them we must. There are too many people being too ‘realistic’ for their own good, citing past Liverpool success as something that could only have happened then and not now. Bullshit! Liverpool fans are becoming too clever for their own good sometimes. I lost count last season of the number of times our improving league place and the chance of a spot in the Champions League was referred to solely in terms of the financial rewards, while sneering at anybody who happened to mention how we won the damn thing in the first place. The public knew only two players from that 77 side at large before they wore the Red shirt – McDermott and Ray Kennedy. When I hear the pitiful claim that I’m “living in the past, that couldn’t happen nowadays”, it shows that examination of United’s superiority doesn’t stretch to looking at the actual team. Schmeichel and Irwin cost less than £1m, Jonsen and Solskjaer weren’t much more. Giggs, Neville, Butt and Beckham cost nowt. Scholes would have played in Barcelona but for suspension. Yes, the other players cost a lot but that’s a third of the team – and don’t tell me Cole and Yorke weren’t vastly overpriced. Keane went to United at the same time Clough came here, and if they’d had Hyypia instead of Stam would the outcome have been any different? Well, yes – they’d have beaten Bayern 2-0. What United have done has always been within our reach, even without a new stadium that could end up as the biggest white elephant since the Millennium Dome. In fact, United have only done what Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish did for far longer. Dominate England – and will I mention our four European Cups? You fucking bet I will! I know they are past achievements, but they weren’t won with past-it methods. Good teamwork, skilful players, fit, passionate – they still play the same game in the 21st Century, as far as I can make out.
A4E give short shrift to the most insidious argument of all; ever since the Kop was flattened, it’s not been the same Anfield anyway. This is really sneaky, and is easily demolished – a bit like the old Kop! They patiently describe the numerous changes our ground’s been through, and will hopefully go through in the future. “The Kop was originally flat behind the goal. Then it was a huge earth bank……later it had concrete terraces. Later still a Boy’s Pen. Then a new roof. Then came proper staircases. Then crush barriers. Finally, wholesale replacement by the current seated Kop grandstand. Similar developments are true of all parts of Anfield. What this means is that any argument in favour of moving which uses the submission that Anfield is no longer the same and so we may as well move anyway is inherently flawed”. Exactly. Their ‘epilogue’ may well be sentimental, but it is beautifully written. I could not do it justice by condensing it here, and I’ve already ‘stolen’ enough. Their article ready does deserve to be read in its entirety. I know ‘RAOTL’ have been reproducing Alan Edge’s stuff, but if they do it with this that’s at least six pages they’ll have used!
One area they steered clear of is the subject of TRUST. That may be because they don’t want to make any more waves than they’re already doing. As a supporter of Anfield4Ever (and not a leader, as a couple of reports have insinuated), I’m under no such obligation. I wouldn’t trust the fuckers as far as I could throw them, frankly. One minute Rick Parry is quoted as saying he doesn’t envisage pay per view because it would be counteracted by loss of ticket revenue. The next minute, here comes pay per view – to muted (if any) LFC objection. In fact, what is the Internet delayed screening of matches but PPV by another name? One minute he’s saying leaving Anfield is not on the agenda, the next minute we’re um leaving Anfield – that’s without a single second’s consultation with the fans.
This is the same club that has spent around £40m on renovating Anfield in the last ten years – including that gloriously inept and inadequate upper tier at the Anny Road end. This is the same club that talks of closing the financial gap between ourselves and United, but when the latter were quoted as being worth one billion pounds they were busy selling 10% of our club for a fifth of what a similar slice of the plc would cost. And people are falling for all this! You hear people talking about keeping the new ground in ‘the spirit’ of the old Anfield, even referring to the Shankly Stand and Paisley Stand – well, unless Nessie and Jessie have got a million a year they can fork out, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land. The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is already looking for a sponsor! Have a look at the current Anfield and count the references to Reebok and Carlsberg – and they’re not even sponsoring the ground. Yet. Some talk about the use of the land left vacant when we leave; “ooo, it’ll be a nice little park for the local kiddies”. It’ll be a park all right, a car park. Oh no, sorry. They’ve denied they’ll turn it into a car park – so that means they won’t, right?
It’s just really hard not to be cynical sometimes. Perhaps there is a bit of arm-twisting going on, and the inheritors of the Mason sisters’ mantle will give up faster than they did. Then we can expand the Main Stand and the Centenary, ending up with a 55,000 capacity. That sounds just about right. A new 70,000 capacity may be a bold initiative, but it is fraught with difficulty and danger. That is before we get into the romantic and sentimental argument about destroying our spiritual home. If it is true what they say and romance is dead, and it is true (as some are actually implying) that Anfield is not that special anyway, then how many people want to stick it out with the Reds in their new home? Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock? Not special, we can ditch that. A proper Red Liverpool kit to be proud of? Not special, we can ditch that. The Kop? Not special, we can ditch that. A reasonable entry price? We can definitely ditch that.
But can we honestly ditch Anfield? For some, that may be one betrayal too far.
For the full transcript of Will and Alan’s excellent article, check out